News: CJ Exclusives

Race won’t be a factor in new legislative maps, Republicans say

Redistricting committee adopts nine criteria for new districts over objections of Democrats

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, pictured at an April committee meeting, dealt with a barrage of questions and comments from Democrats during Thursday's redistricting committee meeting. (CJ photo by Dan Way)
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, pictured at an April committee meeting, dealt with a barrage of questions and comments from Democrats during Thursday's redistricting committee meeting. (CJ photo by Dan Way)

Lawmakers won’t consider race when they redraw legislative maps to meet a Sept. 1 federal court deadline.

Republicans on the House and Senate redistricting committee made that clear as they swatted down repeated objections from Democrats in a Thursday committee meeting. The decision not to use race was one of nine criteria the committee adopted to guide mapmakers who will draw new district lines for the 2018 election and remedy 28 racially gerrymandered districts.

All but two of the criteria were approved on party-line votes as committee members clashed repeatedly on interpretations of what was required to satisfy an order from a federal three-judge panel in North Carolina v. Covington.

The three-judge panel ruled Republicans relied too heavily on race in creating nine Senate and 19 House districts after the 2010 Census. The General Assembly has until the end of the month to provide the court with new maps.

The majority Republicans easily pushed through all nine criteria on roll call votes. They handily defeated a series of amendments and additional criteria proposed by Democratic members.

“While Republicans voted to respect geographic compactness, city and town boundaries, and split fewer precincts, Democrats voted against these measures,” N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement released after the meeting.

He called the Democrats hypocrites for opposing colorblind districts and insisting on including race-based criteria in the new maps.

The criteria adopted involve:

  •    Equal population
  •    Contiguity
  •    County groupings and traversals
  •    Compactness
  •    Fewer split precincts
  •    Municipal boundaries
  •    Incumbency protection
  •    Election data
  •    No consideration of racial data

Committee members voted unanimously to adopt two criteria. One requires using 2010 federal Census data in configuring districts that cannot deviate by 5 percent from equal population standards. The other groups whole counties and seeks to prevent having districts spill into more than one county as much as practicable.

The biggest flashpoint occurred during the vote on not identifying the race of voters or individuals in creating new districts.  

“You’re still using race by saying you excluded race. You’re shortchanging people by not considering them,” Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, told Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, the committee’s senior House chairman.

“We live in the South. When in the South has race not been a factor?” asked Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth.

But Lewis countered that Republicans compiled a voluminous record of compliance with the Voting Rights Act in drawing electoral maps in 2011, and the three-judge panel didn’t approve those districts.

With the court concluding race was used as a predominant factor, although not with ill intent or in a discriminatory manner, Lewis said, racial considerations won’t be used this time.

At one point, expressing exasperation, Lewis said Michaux was making statements, and he would not respond to them.

During the nearly three-hour meeting, some debate centered on complicated technological matters, such as what software tools to use and the sorts of calculations and maps that could be made using them.

Some arguments got granular, with disagreements over correct use of terms such as shall, should, and may.

Other areas of disagreement were more of a physical nature, with Sens. Ben Clark, D-Hoke, and Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, unsuccessfully advocating for guarantees that districts include geographical as well as county compactness.

Smith-Ingram said some multicounty districts such as Pasquotank and Hyde are split by rivers or coastal bodies of water that have no transportation connections, requiring nearly three-hour drive times to get from one point to another.

In opposing Clark’s amendment, Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, said roads snake in and out of different counties in many inland rural districts whose population centers are not directly connected within a county. Rural counties often have more land mass and sparser population bases, making it necessary to connect them to meet equal population standards for districts.